Why is there so much woo on this blog?

For starters, it’s the brand. Sometimes I don’t think people take me seriously when I explain this is all laying groundwork for some as-yet-to-be-determined grift. To borrow a koan:

Goso said, “To give an example, it is like a buffalo passing through a window. Its head, horns, and four legs have all passed through. Why is it that its tail cannot?”

Second, I am earnestly into the woo. Sometimes I tweet about the woo. Sometimes I write about it on my other blog. But getting deep into the real woo here would be off-brand. So I won’t.

The Enso brand is about building and maintaining wealth holistically. You can’t do that without addressing issues of values and self. Much of what is written about personal finance and investing is selling particular systems. What I’m trying to sell are techniques and models for navigating those systems. This blog doesn’t read like a system, of course. Thinking about systems is different from thinking within systems, on their own terms.

The very online nerd term for this conceptual layer is “meta.”

A classical text illustrating the meta layer is the 1996 movie Scream. Scream is full of meta takes on the slasher genre. It is explicit in its awareness of genre conventions. The characters know “the rules” of slasher flicks. They talk about them.

Randy: The police are always off track with this shit! If they’d watch Prom Night, they’d save time! There’s a formula to it. A very simple formula!

(yelling in video store)


Scream (1996)

Since then, meta-horror/comedy has emerged as a genre unto itself. I can’t think of a better example than The Cabin in the Woods. Cabin is meta on almost every level. (example: the special effects and makeup were done by Heather Langenkamp and her company AFX Studio. Langenkamp’s breakout role as an actress was playing Nancy in the Nightmare on Elm Street series)

One way of thinking about various strains of financial advice is as different genres with their own conventions. Enso Finance sits squarely within the Fortune Cookie Advice genre. Fortune Cookie Advice is meditative. It’s about “making people think” (or trying to, anyway). My fortune cookies typically have a meta character, but Fortune Cookie Advice doesn’t have to be meta. The audience for object-level fortune cookies is much larger, anyway.

On the other end of the spectrum sits Fancy Quant Advice. Fancy Quant Advice is about number crunching. Simulations. Backtests. Varying degrees of mathematical formalism. I’ve tried dabbling in this genre a bit, but it just doesn’t come naturally to me. Others do it extremely well. See: Breaking the Market, Philosophical Economics, OSAM, Newfound, Squeezemetrics.

I don’t have much to say about the Investment Tip Newsletter genre. It’s pretty straightforward. Object-level idea generation. Caveat emptor, of course.

Then there’s the Doom Porn genre. This is the reflexive contrarian, “broken clock is right twice a day” stuff where guys have predicted 30 of the last 5 bear markets. Here we’re charting the S&P 500 in Fed balance sheet terms and explaining why everyone’s favorite risk premium harvesting strategy is actually a giant ponzi scheme. Up is down. Black is white.

Of course, we can mash these up, too. Fancy Quant Advice in particular marries well with other genres. Fancy Quant Doom Porn is a potent brew.

This post is primarily a comment on form, not efficacy. Efficacy can vary within each genre. For most genres this is straightforward to grasp. Doom Porn might be the exception. It’s easy to dismiss Doom Porn entirely as an invention of grifters and charlatans. But it can serve a purpose. Per my Attachment Post, Doom Porn can be used as an antidote to complacency. What if the doomers are right? It’s worth considering low probability, high impact scenarios. From a risk management perspective, some of these risks might be worth insuring.

Which brings me back to the woo.

A somewhat woo belief of mine, and a theme of this blog, is that we should not think of systems as more or less “correct” in some idealized form so much as more or less “useful” for particular ends. Systems can be used liked tools on a tool belt.

Don’t reach for a screwdriver if you need a hammer.

Don’t reach for Doom Porn when you’re craving a Fortune Cookie.